Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Freedom is the miles I'm rollin' on.....not if you can't meet GHG standards

People think about the importance of certain freedoms, like freedom of speech or the right to bear arms. But one freedom we might think less about is the freedom to travel...to move from place to place at will..to work...to enjoy life. Its in many ways the essence of the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately overzealous regulations are indirectly taxing this important freedom, and it is showing up in the price of new trucks and SUVs.



"Ford Motor Co. executives spared no expense in overhauling the crown jewel of their empire, the F-150. They gave the truck a new aluminum body, smaller turbocharged engines and a lighter and stronger steel frame -- all with an eye to appease U.S. regulators demanding cleaner vehicles. The initiative took six years and cost Ford more than $1 billion."

“Not meeting the standards is not really an option, especially on your most profitable product,’’ said Gopal Duleep, president of H-D Systems, a Washington research company. “On fuel economy, the regulators allow you to pay a fine if you fall short. But on greenhouse gas, they don’t. You either meet the standard or they shut you down.’’

"The new technologies save fuel but add thousands in consumer costs…Between 2011 and May 2016, the average price of full-size pickups jumped 24 percent -- almost triple the pace for all new vehicles -- to $41,606, according to J.D. Power & Associates."

These costs are outrageous. How are middle and working class Americans supposed to afford these kinds of increases? Even if you buy used, more people turning to less expensive older vehicles likely will translate in to increased demand and higher prices in those markets as well.

Adding insult to injury, these regulations are NOT science based. At best they are political feathers in bureaucratic hats, at worst they are based on pseudo-scientific quasi-religious claims about the impacts of emissions on climate change. These regulations and costs are way out of proportion to any scientific consensus on climate change. It is way too weak to offer much guidance on actions, or very precise estimates of actual risks/benefits. ( see here, here, and here).

There are too many margins and too many market based and technological possibilities to use such a blunt and REGRESSIVE regulatory apparatus to address climate change.

See also: Hybrid Corn vs Hybrid Cars

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Snake Oil Sustainability-Marketing Agenda Driving People Away from Sustainable Farming Practices

 In the old west, 'snake oil' salesmen would sell these elixars claiming that they universally will 'cure what ails you.' In today's world of modern science and medicine, for the most part, these tactics no longer work. Except maybe in the world of sustainable food. Its becoming more and more common for food companies to slap some label on their food like 'natural', 'organic', 'GMO-free', 'no antibiotics', 'hormone free' etc. and claim either explicitly or implicitly that these foods universally will cure what's ailing the planet or are healthier and safer with little or no scientific evidence to support the claims. Because, just like the snake oil salesmen of the old west, its about perception and fear and emotion vs. science and truth. You would think that truth in advertising laws and such would squelch this kind of unethical marketing practice, but in fact Vermont's recent GMO food labeling initiative is helping to almost institutionalize and catalyze this even more, making it more confusing for consumers and difficult to really know and understand what is in their food and the technology and production practices that are behind it.

Chipotle has its own history of these 'sustainability snake oil' marketing tactics with their past video releases. Now apparently Cliff Bar is playing the same game.

From: http://www.agweb.com/article/krotz-foul-mouthed-mr-seed-sells-with-scares-naa-agweb-guest-editor/

“Food companies are using junk science driving people away from sustainable practices like GMOs to manipulate consumers for the sole purpose of market gain.”

I think the above is a telling statement, and broadly reflects a number of marketing and legislative campaigns many of us are familiar with....think Chipotle and Vermont's GMO labeling laws. I watched the video mentioned in the AgWeb story above (produced or funded by Clif Bar Family Foundation), and even if it weren't junk sci-fi, its pretty vulgar and offensive in its own right.

It is a shame, similar to the Chipotle burritos, at $5+ per box even, Cliff Bars are really good. And actually healthy. What I can't understand, when you have a really good product like this, why resort to such unethical and misleading marketing practices?

In a sense, when it comes to marketing tactics, this makes Chipotle and Cliff Bar among others truly the snake oil salesmen of the sustainable food movement. And tragically unnecessarily so. Even more tragically, like in the old west, instead of having consumers seek out science based solutions and treatments to their ailments, they buy the fake product. Similarly, these snake oil sustainable food marketing practices are driving consumers away from modern science based green technologies that truly offer remedies to the many environmental challenges we face in feeding a future growing population.

(image:Carol M. Highsmith - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID highsm.28650.)

"Professor Thaddeus Schmidlap" (historical intrepreter Ross Nelson), the resident snake-oil salesman at the Enchanted Springs Ranch and Old West theme park, special-events venue, and frequent movie and television commercial set in Boerne, Texas, northwest of San Antonio
See also: Consumers have a right to know!

Farmers and Ranchers May Sue to Stop Clean Water Regulation of Ordinary Farmland

Its almost folklore, the story about farmers being targeted and sued by Monsanto over trivial cross pollination events. In reality, only the most deliberate and egregious violations have ever been taken to court. However, if we are really concerned about predatory litigation practices, we find the EPA/US Army Corps of Engineers taking legal actions that could lead to imposing fines up to $37,000 per day on farmers found in violation of a tangling web of regulations related to clean water rules. The tide may be turning.

 From: http://www.fb.org/newsroom/news_article/441/

United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc.

"A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled landowners may challenge the federal government whenever the Army Corps of Engineers tries improperly to regulate land with regulations designed to protect water....Today's decision removes a huge roadblock that has prevented landowners from obtaining relief from the courts when the Corps illegally claims their land is federally regulated water"

More details of an interesting case where one farmer sued the EPA and won:


About three months later, the Johnsons received an administrative order in the mail threatening a fine of $37,500 per day over the completed project. The agency wanted the Johnsons to rip out the stock pond, hire a consultant to revise a new plan, and submit it within ten days. “I knew the minute that I got the administrative order it was wrong,” Johnson says. “I told my wife we aren’t going to do this. It would have costs us $50,000 to $70,000 to do what they wanted us to do, going through a consultant and all the hoops to rip the pond out.” The Johnsons decided to fight back and in the end, they won.

You can also get more details with an interview with Andy Johnson on Agritalk  (May 19):


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Do Preferences for Regulation or Labeling of Biotech Foods Differ Across Political Spectrums?

Jayson Lusk has an interesting post on his blog related to an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics finding an interesting relationship between left leaning voters and their willingness to support GMO labeling initiatives:

“One distinction, which I think is missing, is the greater willingness of those on the left to regulate on economic issues, such as GMOs, than those on the right. Stated differently, there are questions of science: what are the risks of climate change or eating GMOs. And then there are more normative questions: given said risk, what should we do about it? Even if the left and the right agreed on the level of risk, I don’t think we should expect agreement on political action.”

In other words there might be different thresholds for the level of risk required to support a given policy interventions across the political spectrum. I go into some deeper dives about states of knowledge and risk perceptions in relation to this at economic sense - see Left vs Right Science vs Risk vs Propensity to Regulate.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Consumers have a right to know!

Advocates of GMO labels like to stand behind the claim that consumers have a right to know what is in their food. But I ask, if we are going to put a label on foods with biotech/GMO ingredients, then what kind of label are we going to put on conventional and non-GMO foods?

Most research indicates that non-biotech foods pose nearly identical if not other more certain risks. In fact biotech ('GMO' if you must) crops actually reduce some of these risks. What about exposure to chemical weed killers? Roundup Ready biotech crops have lead to a substitution away from much more toxic and environmentally persistent chemistries toward much safer options. Biotech corn with the Bt trait actually reduces the ear mold toxin fumonisin which is known to be carcinogenic and related to throat cancer. The Bt trait in general has greatly reduced or eliminated the use of many very toxic chemical pesticides.

Researchers in the journal of Ecological Economics have found that "Bt cotton has reduced pesticide applications by 50%, with the largest reductions of 70% occurring in the most toxic types of chemicals." And that " Bt cotton now helps to avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year."

In the journal Nature Biotechnology, Henry Miller and Gregory Conko go so far as to say that companies that purposefully exclude biotech ingredients could be liable for increasing consumers exposure to these types of risks.

This is a case where government interventions that require labeling could actually do more harm than good. Labels help consumers concerned about fat and sodium make healthy choices, however sensational 'GMO' labels could be misguiding and lead consumers  to actually make choices that are either worse for them, the health of producers, or the environment.
Consumers certainly have a right to know about what's in their food. They also have a right to not be misguided by the improper application of food labels. Our farmers and educators are in the best position to inform consumers about the very specific and complicated processes and technologies involved in food production as opposed to some blunt uninformative term on a label that could easily be manipulated for political ends or sensationalized by media.
Comparison of Fumonisin Concentrations in Kernels of Transgenic Bt Maize Hybrids and Nontransgenic Hybrids. Munkvold, G.P. et al . Plant Disease 83, 130-138 1999.

Indirect Reduction of Ear Molds and Associated Mycotoxins in Bacillus thuringiensis Corn Under Controlled and Open Field Conditions: Utility and Limitations. Dowd, J. Economic Entomology. 93 1669-1679 2000.

"Why Spurning Biotech Food Has Become a Liability.'' Miller, Henry I, Conko, Gregory, & Drew L. Kershe. Nature Biotechnology Volume 24 Number 9 September 2006.

Genetically Engineered Crops: Has Adoption Reduced Pesticide Use? Agricultural Outlook ERS/USDA Aug 2000
Note: this article is a modified version of an original article I published in 2013: